What is a Physical Therapy Aide?

Job Description

Physical therapy aide or other medical office worker
••• Reza Estakhrian / Stone / Getty Images

A physical therapy aide (P.T. Aide) is a member of the support staff of a physical therapy office. Working under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants, he or she performs tasks that don't directly involve treating patients. He or she sets up and cleans treatment rooms and helps patients get to them. A P.T. aide may also be responsible for clerical duties.

Quick Facts

  • About 52,000 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • Most jobs are in physical therapy offices and hospitals.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this as a "bright outlook" occupation because of its excellent job outlook. Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

How to Become a Physical Therapy Aide

Employers usually hire job candidates who have a high school or equivalency diploma. They provide short-term on-the-job training. Having computer skills is a big plus since many PT Aides perform clerical tasks.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

PT aides need certain soft skills to succeed in this field. These are some of them:

  • Active Listening: You will be expected to follow physical therapists' and physical therapist assistants' instructions precisely. Excellent listening skills will allow you to do this. 
  • Interpersonal Skills: You should have an awareness of others' reactions and the ability to adjust your actions to those of other people.
  • Service Orientation: A strong desire to help others is essential.
  • Detail Oriented: You must keep treatment rooms neat and clean. When setting them up, you must take great care to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be.
  • Critical Thinking: Your employer will expect you to weigh all your options when making decisions.

Roles and Responsibilities

What is a day in the life of a physical therapy aid like? Here are the job duties employers listed in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Prepares equipment for the patient treatments as requested by the Physical Therapist/Physical Assistant"
  • "Set up hot and cold packs"
  • "Transport patients to and from treatment areas, using wheelchairs or providing standing support"
  • "Maintain and clean all equipment including treatment tables"
  • "Observe patients during treatment to compile and evaluate data on patient’s responses and progress, and report to the physical therapist"
  • "Safely assist patients into or onto therapy equipment"
  • "Answers calls from physician offices, hospitals, and patients using exemplary customer service skills"

Differences Between a Physical Therapy Aide and a Physical Therapist Assistant

These two occupations differ substantially in their educational requirements and job duties. PT Aides only need to have graduated from high school or earned an equivalency diploma. They are not required to have a license to practice. On the contrary, physical therapist assistants need an associate degree from an accredited training program.

Every state in the U.S. requires them to be licensed. Assistants treat patients under physical therapists' direction. Aides are not allowed to provide direct patient care. They may perform only tasks that help physical therapists and assistants do their jobs.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to handle multiple responsibilities at one time"
  • "Knowledge of medical terminology and medical office experience"
  • "Ability to comprehend and follow instructions"
  • "Able to maintain confidentiality of all patient and office related information"
  • "Must pass post-offer physical and obtain TB clearance"
  • "You must be professional, hard-working, dependable, punctual, friendly and outgoing"
  • "Required to appropriately interact with all patients regardless of age or culture"
  • "Able to think on your feet"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

When evaluating whether a career is right for you, it is important to consider your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. This occupation could be a good fit If you have the following traits:

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
Dental AssistantTends to laboratory and office duties in a dentist's office$36,940HS or Equivalency Diploma + on-the-job training or accredited training program (depending on state)
Veterinary AssistantPerforms basic tasks in a veterinary clinic or hospital$25,250HS or Equivalency Diploma + on-the-job training
Occupational Therapy AidePrepares equipment and treatment rooms for occupational therapists and assistants$28,330HS or Equivalency Diploma + on-the-job training
Medical AssistantPerforms clinical and administrative tasks in a doctor's office$31,540HS or Equivalency Diploma + postsecondary training

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited February 19, 2018).